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Image / Beauty

The red lipstick test: Does wearing a red lip change how people treat me?

by Aisling Keenan
17th May 2019

Can one swipe across the mouth with a bright red lipstick make the difference in how you’re treated? I road tested it and really paid attention to any differences in my interactions… Here’s what I learned.

On the most basic of levels, red lipstick draws attention to your mouth. It tells whoever you’re with: Listen to what I have to say, because I’m not afraid to say it. It speaks of confidence before you ever get to articulate that first hand.

When you want to detract attention away from your bad skin/hair day. When you want to feel more feminine. When you want to portray a sense of power, gravitas and daring. When you want to command the attention of an interviewer, a date, a room. Red lipstick is transformative, and I haven’t been using it to its full potential.

Special occasions only

I used to hold back my red lipstick wearing for occasions only. Oh, and anywhere the occasion didn’t involve a big meal – the reapplication is a big commitment. But that meant, usually, Monday to Friday would be neutral lip territory.

And, after a few treacherous months from a professional perspective, I decided Monday to Friday was where I needed the boldness that a red lip could kindle in me. Not to get too dramatic, but I needed any bit of help I could get. I was losing faith in my abilities, and Imposter Syndrome was at an all time high.

I told myself I wasn’t naive enough to think that one day of wearing red lipstick, an absolutely superficial thing, could change how I feel about my career, or make any dramatic difference to my prospects within it. But I wasn’t totally right.

The differences

They were subtle, but I noticed. Like Queen Elizabeth I – yes, I’m comparing myself to a queen – I wore my relatively small (by today’s Insta-lip standard) pout with pride. I went to Supervalu first, and people smiled at me more.

Then I had a day of work to do. My colleagues complimented me (which was lovely but not the real point of the exercise), but they were also taken aback by the 10am bright pop of colour I brought them. The compliment, to me, felt more like a ‘you really turned UP today, didn’t you?’ sort of thing. Like I wasn’t messing. Like I started the day on purpose.

Like the Hollywood movie stars who brought the red lip into the glam realms, I felt more womanly but also more in charge. I felt more attractive, which probably made me seem more attractive – although I didn’t straw poll the men and women I came in contact with on the day.

Shoulders back

I smiled more, which made me happier.

Where I’d usually spend the day correcting my posture, I didn’t – my shoulders were already back. These things were all subtle, but resulted in one of the best days I’ve had in ages.

Not much about the day changed – Supervalu, work, dinner, home, bed. But how I felt about it was entirely different. Sure, it’s just lipstick. But it was the gentle shove my confidence needed to reveal itself from under my otherwise neutral tones.


It hadn’t ever occurred to me, such is my great privilege in life, that my red lips might bring other connotations – negative ones. What that realisation showed me was that I’m not as down about things as I could be.

I can imagine there are women (and men) out there toying with the idea of a red lip that worry they’ll denote immorality; over-sexualising themselves and harking back to the days when women’s red lips were seen as almost witchcraft.

Let me tell you this: Wear the lipstick. Get the job. Run the world. You’ve already got it all in you – maybe the red lips will help you speak that truth more proudly.

My choice of powerful reds are…

Chanel Rouge Allure in Pirate, €36

Tom Ford Lip Laquer Matte in Ruby Rush, €49

Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Pur Couture in Le Orange, €34